Early Edition: September 30, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

US DEVELOPMENTS

Former special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday refuted allegations made by a top prosecutor in his office that his team could have done more to hold President Trump accountable and “uncover the truth,” stating that the criticism was “based on incomplete information.” Mueller’s rare announcement is in response to Andrew Weissmann, a former deputy on Mueller’s team that investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, who accused the office of not going far enough in its investigations. Mueller said he knew his work would be “scrutinized from all sides,” and made clear that he was in charge of making any final, important decision, and he did so “without any interest in currying favor or fear of the consequences.” Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe yesterday declassified a Russian intel briefing that alleged Hilary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 presidential election opponent, authorized “a campaign plan to stir up a scandal” against Trump by linking him to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails — however, the assessment has previously been rejected by Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee for having no factual basis, sources familiar with the matter have confirmed. The assessment was released by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) yesterday and received backlash from Democrats who said the move furthers Russian disinformation efforts and attempts to support Trump’s claims about the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Andrew Desiderio and Daniel Lippman report for POLITICO.

Senate Republicans are upping their effort to scrutinize the 2016 FBI “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Trump and his ties to Russia, with Graham warning that a “day of reckoning” is nearing. Former FBI director James Comey will today testify before Graham’s committee, one of three Senate committees looking into the FBI and CIA’s investigations. Karoun Demirjian reports for the Washington Post.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) yesterday issued subpoenas to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an attempt to force the department to handover important documents and provide testimony over a whistleblower complaint that accused the officials of downplaying Russian election interference and the risk of white supremacist violence. Following the complaint made by Brian Murphy, the former head of DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), Murphy has allegedly been prevented from testifying before the committee, prompting Schiff to send a letter to Joseph Maher, Murphy’s current acting replacement, urging him to testify before the panel “as to why DHS is preventing a lawful Intelligence Community whistleblower — your own predecessor — from providing classified testimony to the Committee by delaying security clearances for his attorneys.” The subpoenas require the DHS to hand over previously requested documents by Oct. 6. Caitlin Oprysko reports for POLITICO.

The Future of Defense Task Force, a bipartisan group of House Armed Services Committee members, has recommended extending the New START nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia, which is set to expire February. The task force, which is responsible for considering long-term strategies about emerging threats, said in its 87-page report released yesterday that the United States should extend the treaty “while negotiating a follow-on agreement.” Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

Amy Barrett, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, received her nomination on September 21, three days after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barrett confirmed in her questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee, highlighting the speed at which Trump had made up his mind up about his intended nomination. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

Trump’s campaign has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on setting up a legal team to litigate against mail-in votes ahead of the November election, data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) revealed. The campaign paid over $250,000 to Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, the law firm taking forward lawsuits over the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania. The data also shows that the campaign paid out over $980,000 for legal services in August compared to around $332,000 in July, and spent over $3.9 million on legal services between March and August. Reuters reporting.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris yesterday released their federal and state tax returns. Filings reveal that Biden and his wife paid over $290,000 in taxes, with Kamala and her husband, Doug Emhoff, paying over £1.1 million in taxes. Max Greenwood and Naomi Jagoda report for The Hill.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Chuck Rettig yesterday asked the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to review the agency’s internal safeguards of taxpayer information, following Trump’s tax information being revealed. The IRS said in a statement that it “has taken steps to reconfirm the integrity of its processes and procedures for protecting all taxpayers’ return information,” including “enhanced safeguards” for certain taxpayers, “and has found no issues,” but did go on to confirm that a watchdog review will nonetheless take place. Roby Eckert reports for POLITICO.

Members of the far-right group Proud Boys are celebrating following Trump’s refusal yesterday to denounce white supremacists and armed militia groups and his remark that said, “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by.” Shortly after Trump’s comments, members of the group took to social media describing the president’s comments as “historic.” A private messaging app used by the members also reveals that some viewed Trump’s comments as tacit support of violent tactics. Sheera Frenkel and Annie Karni report for the New York Times.

6 key takeaways from yesterday’s presidential debate are provided by Eric Bradner and Kevin Liptak for CNN.

MICHAEL FLYNN CASE

An attorney for President Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn yesterday told a federal judge that she had briefed the president on the case two weeks ago and asked him not to issue a pardon, but made clear she had asked nothing more of Trump. Sidney Powell, the lawyer leading Flynn’s legal team, responded to pointed questioned from U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who asked Powell if she had ever asked the president or Attorney General William Barr to appoint new attorneys in the case; Powell stressed she had not. Although both Flynn’s legal team and the Justice Department yesterday pushed for Sullivan to drop the case, Sullivan expressed that his view was that sentencing in the case had already started, indicating his firm disagreement with the department’s decision to drop the case. Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report for POLITICO.

Sullivan also expressed reservation over allowing the Justice Department to drop the case again Flynn, stating that his role as a trial judge “is not intended to serve merely as a rubber stamp” of prosecutors’ decision to drop the case. Pete Williams and Tom Winter report for NBC News.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 7.2 million and has now killed over 206,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there is close to 33.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and now over 1 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The World Bank yesterday announced a $12 billion initiative aimed at ensuring low-income countries are able to access Covid-19 vaccines. The organization has called on its shareholders to support the scheme that will distribute the funds over the next 18 months. Larry Elliott reports for The Guardian.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN CONFLICT

Armenia and Azerbaijan yesterday rejected international calls for the countries to enter peace talks regarding growing clashes over the highly-contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. Al Jazeera reporting.

Armenia yesterday accused Turkey of shooting down one of its fighter jets in support of Azerbaijan, although Turkey has denied the allegation. BBC News reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The State Department has expressed outrage over an attack Monday in Iraq that left many civilians dead. “We are outraged by yesterday’s rocket attack in Baghdad that killed civilians, including a mother and her children,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. AP reporting.

French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday called on Europe to relinquish its dependency on American weapons systems, urging the continent’s member states to take a less subservient role in the international arena, distinct from the United States and China. “We, some countries more than others, gave up on our strategic independence by depending too much on American weapons systems,” Macron said at a debate at the University of Vilnius in Lithuania, adding, “We cannot accept to live in a bipolar world made up of the U.S. and China.” Rym Momtaz reports for POLITICO.

The UK and Canada yesterday imposed a travel ban and asset freezes on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his son and other officials, over the highly-disputed presidential vote last month and the government’s violence against protesters. Al Jazeera reporting.

The UAE has ramped up its arms supplies to Khalifa Haftar, the renegade military commander of the Libyan National Army, who is currently in conflict with the Libya’s internationally-recognised government, a United Nations report has found, which suggests the country violated an arms embargo. Between January and April, the report states that the Gulf nation send over 150 flights carrying ammunition and defense systems to Haftar. Jared Malsin reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)